Student letter protests College investments
By Noah Reichblum, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Ten students marched on Parkhurst Hall Monday morning to deliver a letter in protest of the College’s investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts, a hospitality and management company accused of unfair labor practices and discouraging worker unionization.
The letter, addressed to Board of Trustees, high-level administrators and the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, was the first step in a campaign urging the College to join Yale University and Brown University in publicly renouncing future investments in HEI, according Nathan Gusdorf ’12, one of the event’s organizers.
The 10 students attempted to personally deliver letters to College President Jim Yong Kim, Executive Vice President Steven Kadish, Provost Carol Folt and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson. All administrators were busy or in meetings when the students arrived at 8:30 a.m. Secretaries or administrative assistants collected the copies of the letter, according to Janet Kim ’13, the event’s other organizer.
“We wanted to get in early in the morning and make a swift statement at the beginning of the week and the administrator’s day,” Janet Kim said.
Stewart Towle ’12 and Gusdorf led the group in chants prior to and after dropping off the letter.
HEI has faced a number of labor accusations in recent years, the most recent of which involved the HEI-managed Embassy Suites in Irvine, Calif. The California State Labor Commission found the company guilty of denying required rest breaks to eight employees and ordered the company to pay $41,000 in compensation, according to a press release from the labor rights group Unite Here. HEI was similarly found guilty of illegal retaliatory practices by a Massachusetts court in 2011 and received multiple National Labor Relations Board complaints in 2008, the press release said.
The College’s HEI investment fund is up for reinvestment in August, at which point the group of protesters hopes the College will end their support of HEI, according to Gusdorf. Janet Kim said the letter drop-off was the first step in an “escalation plan.”
“According to how the administration responds we’re hoping to apply pressure points in terms of really achieving our end goal of the campaign,” Kim said. “It’s a series of tactics,” she said.
Kim said the campaign will begin to raise awareness by tabling, campaigning, protesting and possibly staging a sit-in if the administration does not respond soon. Gusdorf said that delivering the letter was an essential first step.
“The reason we marched into the administration building is because this a demand,” Gusdorf said. “We want to show we’re willing to demonstrate and advocate in order to bring about this decision.”
The group’s actions will be largely dictated by the College’s response, according to Gusdorf.
“We expect to hear from you by Thursday, March 1,” the letter said. “In light of the upcoming Board of Trustees meeting, and the other universities that have recently declared their intent not to invest, we expect a decision to be made about this matter by March 15, 2012.”
If the group does not receive a response, the students plan to hold a protest on Saturday with at least 20 to 25 students to coincide with the Board of Trustees meeting March 2-3, Gusdorf said.
Cornell University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College and Vanderbilt University have also stated that they do not plan to invest in HEI, according to letter.
Out of the 10 students who delivered the letter, the majority are involved in Occupy Dartmouth, Students Stand with Staff, the Dartmouth affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops or a combination of all three.
The movement protesting HEI aims to increase its support from a core group of five to 15 people to a larger ally group of 20 to 40 people, according to Janet Kim.
“As Occupy Dartmouth came together, we were able to galvanize and solidify our own activist coalition at Dartmouth,” Gusdorf said. “As we took down the Occupy tent, we could move on to some political campaigns and we’re now seeing the output of that.”
Dartmouth students first came in contact with United Students Against Sweatshops during the organization’s Northeast regional meeting this past fall, according to Kim. After talking with Brown students who had successfully convinced their university to be the first school to publicly end all future investments in HEI, Dartmouth students began to organize a campaign.
Nine students traveled to Wisconsin on Feb. 17 to attend the United Students Against Sweatshops’ 15th annual conference.
Deanna Portero ’12, who went to the conference and was also involved in Monday’s protest, said she met an HEI worker and learned about its managerial practices first-hand.
At the meeting, students held conference calls with national organizers and HEI workers, Janet Kim said.
“It’s an issue for students to tackle,” Lily Brown ’15, a member of Occupy Dartmouth and part of Monday’s event, said.
The conference, coupled with Princeton University’s private announcement to students last week that the school has no current plans to renew their investment in HEI this upcoming August, gave Dartmouth’s group enough momentum to begin its campaign on Monday, according to Kim.
The campaign to end Princeton’s investments in HEI lasted three years, according to Brown.
The actual level of the College’s involvement with HEI is unclear due to privacy rules, but Dartmouth is one of the company’s top investors, according to Kim.
Gusdorf said that according to his general understanding of Dartmouth’s relationship with HEI, Dartmouth invests money in HEI’s private equity fund. HEI in turn uses the funds to buy hotel and resort properties, he said. When the properties are sold, Dartmouth collects a portion of the profit.
“One of the big issues is that we don’t exactly know what Dartmouth invests in,” Gusdorf said.